Nature Diary

A place for photos and descriptions of the natural world wherever I happen to be...

September 9, 2014 -- Little Things Mean a Lot

Southern Arizona has received a surprising amount of rain during the tail end of the monsoon season, and yesterday there was flooding in several parts of Tucson (though not here on the West side). The monsoon rains have allowed small animals to prosper, and in our yard there are now toads, young lizards, and lots of hummingbirds.

Clockwise: probably a Great Plains toad; young rock squirrel;
probably a female Anna's Hummingbird; a young desert spiny lizard that lost part of its tail.

August 31, 2014 -- Monsoon Details

This morning when I returned from a walk, there was a bobcat in the yard. He looked at me thoughtfully for a few seconds. Then he made an astonishingly graceful leap to the top of our five-foot fence and disappeared from sight. I was sorry not to have had a camera in my hands, but for a few seconds I had felt a small frisson of anxiety. The bobcat, though thin and lithe, was surprisingly big and much surer of himself than I am.

During the rainy season animals and birds are less dependent on our backyard than during dry times. But the rain brings changes, and I will miss the chubascos when they are over. Here are a few monsoon details:
[Click to see a larger image]
Clockwise: barrel cactus in bloom; gila woodpecker at the top of a saguaro;
mushroom in the desert; and fruit on the desert hackberry
July 24, 2014 -- The Chubascos Have Started

Though our monsoon season did get off to an impressive start the first week of July, we really do need some serious rain. Which is why I began to feel kind of melancholy when there wasn’t a drop of the stuff for a whole week after a downpour on Tuesday, July 15.

I felt elated during those early July rains, and our yard began to get green again. On a few nights we heard spadefoot toads bleating, and the prickly pear fruit began to ripen. Our big Mexican Crucillo began to bloom, too, which isn’t so impressive because its fruit and flowers are tiny, but it attracted a large number of bees and some parasitic wasps like Cricket Hunters.

Clockwise: Cricket hunter on the Mexican Crucillo; prickly pear fruit ripening;
my red eared slider turtle enjoying the rain; a young verdin;
[click on image to see a larger version]
Early yesterday morning a young Cooper’s Hawk took up residence in the yard, and he ate one of my doves and kept the rest of the birds away for most of the day. He cooled his feet in a makeshift birdbath and hung out until late afternoon. Then he flew away, and we had a short but beautiful rain storm.
Young Coopers Hawk in a makeshift birdbath
[click on image to see a larger version]

June 22, 2014 -- on Backyard Birding

As I sit at my desk looking out the window at a dove-proof bird feeder, I see lots of house sparrows and house finches diving into it, eating and fighting. Occasionally, a Pyrrhuloxia or an Abert’s towhee joins them. Mourning doves stand around looking sad, unable to wedge themselves into the feeder no matter how hard they try. But I really don’t dislike doves. To the contrary. Most of the seed I put out each day goes to White-winged doves and Mourning doves, who do very well here -- there are always 15 or 20 doves preening, bathing, relaxing, or courting in the yard. I know because I watch them from the window as I work. Occasionally a few quail strut into the yard. Anna's hummingbirds buzz around. Sometimes a roadrunner makes a predatory pass, trying to snare a lizard or an unwary young finch. And then there’s the Northern cardinal who comes by every afternoon, and the Curve-billed thrasher who always has the last word just before dark (whit-whit).

Our backyard is always popular with birds, but in this hot dry solstice weather, there are a surprising number of them. In the past four days I’ve seen fifteen species of birds from my window or while making a quick trip around the backyard. Most of the birds I’ve seen -- and most of the birds I feed -- are sparrows, finches, doves, and quail. But sometimes there are real surprises. The other evening I was walking in the yard with my camera when I saw – in a bush near the house – a small unusual-looking creature. It seemed to be no bigger than a sparrow, yet it was looking at me with wide, golden eyes. For a few seconds I doubted that it was real. Then I took a quick picture of it, Greg ran to get the binoculars and the Peterson Guide, and we were able to spend ten minutes observing an Elf owl. It was preening and stretching before its nightly hunt, and its golden eyes were unforgettable.

Brown-headed cowbird, Elf owl, Anna's hummingbird, and female Hooded oriole,
all sighted in our backyard between June 19 and June 22.
[Click on image to view a larger version.] 
Here’s a complete list of the birds I’ve seen in our yard over the past four days:

Abert’s towhee
Anna’s hummingbird
Brown-headed cowbird
Curve-billed thrasher
Elf owl
Gambel’s quail
Gila woodpecker
Hooded oriole
House finch
House sparrow
Mourning dove
Northern cardinal
White-winged dove

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